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Q&A with Mariska Hargitay
March 17, 2015

Mariska Hargitay, who plans Sergeant Olivia Benson in the long-running drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU), talks about her character and her directing debut.

TV DRAMA: What do you like about Olivia Benson?
HARGITAY: I love her because I am challenged by her. I never know what’s going to happen. She surprises me. This character has evolved, which is the most exciting part of it. In many ways I feel that it’s a new character because she has gone through so much that has truly transformed her and she sees things differently. She’s getting new opportunities with what happened last year. This dark thing that happened [the kidnapping] changed her, and now she’s been given this gift of light and love and possibility and something that fills her so deeply and yet scares her beyond fear. They say when you are a parent your heart goes from inside to outside. She is just trying to figure it out. I’ve got all these new notes to play. This show has a different tone now and it feels new. After last year, even though in many ways I felt like we kind of peaked, now I’m feeling like we haven’t and there is so much more story to tell.

TV DRAMA: Fans of the show have very faithfully followed Olivia’s personal journey over the last few years.
HARGITAY: Olivia’s journey in so many ways is about hope and truth. As we grow, new doors open for us. Because she [went through so many challenges] it’s like the reward of the universe in a way. She went through the fire and then there was light at the end of the tunnel; there are new challenges, obviously, but it is exciting to be on a new journey. Because of that, the show feels so new and the character feels so new to me. There is nothing old about it; it’s all new issues, new challenges. Olivia has new relationships with each person because of what she has going on in her home life, having the baby that she never had. Even with her boyfriend, work was first. But with this life in front of her, nothing is first and yet her instinct is that work is first, her instinct is justice—do what we need to do to get it done. Now Olivia has new instincts that are like new shoes. It’s very unwieldy.

TV DRAMA: You directed for the first time last season. What was that like?
HARGITAY: It was thrilling for me. It’s something I wanted to do for a long time and something that in some ways felt extremely familiar and was a completely natural fit. I was panting, Let me get in there! Let me get in there! And in other ways it was extremely challenging and I’d think, Oh, I didn’t know about this! It was invigorating and thrilling and part of it was that I’ve done this for so long, I wanted to try something else. Sometimes I get so invested in the acting and the story that I know, because I’ve been acting for so long, that I can help push it to a new level. There are things we know that we can do and then there are things we don’t know that we can do, but we try because we want to stretch ourselves. But it was thrilling. With Warren [Leight, SVU’s showrunner] I have to say it was our biggest partnership because of the writing and the way he tones the show—I have him in my head. I felt so safe because the show’s so good. It was this unbelievable creative experience because even though I was doing something new and was so scared, there I was, with my family [the cast and crew]; I had my safety net and him. It was the safest high-wire act ever. I was up really high, but I knew they had [the rope] pulled tight. So it was really great. My good friend Alec Baldwin came in and gave such a stunning performance. It was thrilling working with my co-stars and the team in a different capacity. Everyone was so supportive, and fortunately I was lucky enough to direct again this year.


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